Just when the calf sleeves felt better, my left hip flexor started to ache. This wasn’t an issue I’d ever had in training and definitely wasn’t an issue I was aware of entering the race, but it became so unbearable that, by mile 20, I was having trouble even walking, let alone running. Downhill, which is normally my strength, was excruciating. I tried to remain calm. It was too early for something to feel this bad. I had to do something about it. When I saw my crew next, I asked for a tennis ball and tried to dig into my hip flexor by leaning against the van. While I did that, Darin and Jenn laid towels down on the ground and told me to lie down. Darin started to dig into my hip flexor until he found the trigger point. “There it is,” he said. He felt it right away. He dug into my hip for several minutes and then I got up and stretched. I took off running like a new person. I had almost no pain for 4 miles, but then it started to hurt again. We repeated the same lying down on the ground while Darin dug into my hip flexor process until about mile 60. I still don’t know if my hip flexor stopped hurting or something else started to hurt worse, but, after mile 60, it was no longer an issue until after the race.
I pressed on, knowing that I would finally get to have a pacer after mile 42. Running Badwater is, in many ways, a very isolating experience. Because the runners start in waves, there are often not a lot of people on the road at the same time. Likewise, for safety reasons, runners cannot run abreast. For that reason, the opportunities to talk to other runners are few and far between. It is truly a race in which the competitors battle themselves and the elements and no one else. First, I counted down the number of crew stops before a pacer could join me. Then, I counted down the miles. I had already asked Jenn if she would be first. Whether she knew it or not, I felt like she was a kindred spirit and my rock going into the race, and I knew having her behind me would be want I needed.
When I reached Stovepipe Wells at mile 42, I ran in limping. I felt great, but my hip flexor was hurting again. I checked in, used the bathroom, and then Jenn and Darin sat me down on the ground again. I ate as Darin dug into my hip flexor.
Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs (~mile 72.7):
The sun started to rise and Jenn and I were off, beginning the 16-mile, ~5,000 ft. climb to Towne Pass. It was a long climb and it started to get hot as quickly as the sun started to rise. Still, having Jenn with me gave me a boost of energy. There were times that I started to beat myself up, saying “I feel like I should be running this,” but then Jenn would tell me to look behind at how far we had climbed to help me realize just how much we were ascending and that I was doing exactly what I should be doing. Coming from the trail, that was a battle I constantly felt throughout this race. Although I was aware of the long climbs, I constantly felt like I should be running because I was on the road.
After a couple miles, Jenn, Darin, and Jeff began a pacer rotation. We did a similar rotation when I crewed and paced my friend Larry in 2014, and it seemed to work well for us too. Each of them offered a different perspective, a different approach to running and racing, and has different experience. They made for a great pacing team.
When I finally reached the top of Towne Pass at around 100k, my hip still continued to hurt. Darin, Jenn, and Jeff again laid me down on the ground. Bees swarmed around my head as Jeff fed me and Darin and Jenn worked on various achy parts of my body. Before I set out again, I asked Darin to cut my calf sleeves off. My legs were continuing to swell and the calf sleeves were starting to restrict blood flow entirely. Once that was done, Jeff and I set out, prepared to make the hot descent into Panamint Valley.
As Jeff and I began the descent, I felt a renewed sense of energy having reached and passed the 100k mark. In my mind, that was a milestone. Not long after, I pulled off the road to pee. When I got back on, I instantly felt excruciating pain in one of my left toes, a toe that had suffered the loss of a nail and part of the toe itself in the 12-hour race I’d run a month prior. I screamed in pain. I had no idea what had happened. I started to limp. I asked Jeff to flag down our van when it passed -- I clearly needed to do something about my foot -- but our van had already passed.
After half mile or so of limping, we approached a turnout spot off the road. A voice yelled: “Are you Desiree?” Jeff and I paused. “Yes,” I said. “Desiree, I’m John. Tonya Olson sent me to find you. I’ve been looking for you since Furnace Creek.” I was completely taken aback. “I can’t believe you’re here right now.” I leaned on Jeff in disbelief. “It’s John Vonhof! John takes care of feet!” I exclaimed. I limped over to him and sat on the edge of another runner's van. As I cringed in pain, Jeff put his arm around me and held my hand while John poked around my toe and taped it back up. There were no apparent issues other than that it had rubbed completely raw. The immediate pain I had felt a half mile earlier had likely been from inadvertently kicking one of the many rocks along the pass. Having John tape my toe and tell me I was okay was exactly what I needed to continue. “There are so many people from all over who want to see you finish this race, Des” Jeff said as we walked away. Tears welled in my eyes. I knew he was right. I have never felt more cared for than I did at that moment.
When we next saw the crew, I took a few minutes to care for my feet, changing my socks an retaping them. With a renewed sense of perseverance, I was ready to cross Panamint
Descending into the Panamint Valley was extremely hot. By the time we started to cross the valley and climb to Panamint Springs, the wind had picked up and a sandstorm had started. As Jenn and I slowly pushed through the sand and wind, I looked up at the climb ahead. It was as though I could see uphill for miles, spots of white scattered along the road with a haze of dust surrounding them. The sun beat down on us as Jenn sprayed the last of the water she had on my back. "Do you want me to spray you with the water in my bottle?" she asked. "No," I said. "You need that." We were both almost out of water, despite having refilled 3 or so miles prior, and I knew it was going to be a long, uphill battle until we saw the van again. Spraying me down was a luxury we couldn't afford. At that moment, as I watched the spots of white climb through the storm, the race became real. I was there. I was crossing the desert. I was actually running Badwater. We passed a road sign that showed the mileage back to Furnace Creek and the mileage ahead to Lone Pine. I stopped and hugged Jenn: "We're going to make it!"
When we finally reached Panamint Springs, Darin and Jeff were waiting for us with real food from the restaurant there. After I ate, the plan was for me to rest for 15 minutes before beginning the ~3,000 ft. climb up Father Crowley. This was the first moment in over a day that I actually felt semi human. We sat outside on the patio of a small country store and ate wraps and chips as we watched one wind-beaten runner after another stumble in. "You look better than a lot of the people here," Darin said as he guided me to the van. I tried to rest with little success, but, still, for 15 amazing minutes, I got out of the wind.
Panamint Springs through Father Crowley (~mile 86/summit):